Amy and I followed Jean Ghomeshi, percussionist and vocalist for popular Canadian group Moxy Fruvous, thrugh a door marked Emergency Exit Only! Alarm Will Sound! "It's just a deterrent," Jean told us as he led us into the band's dressing room in Milestones, the Rochester club in which Moxy Fruvous would perform in a few hours. One wall was covered with mirrors. Jean looked at it and started playing with his hair. "I just got my hair cut today - four inches!" he told us. "So I'm gonna be staring at myself as much as possible."
Jean kicked back on one of the couches, and Amy and I sat in nearby chairs. "So," I began, "you just got back from a tour of Great Britain. How did it go?"
He nodded. "It went really well. We're not well known there yet, but it's building. Our album came out there about three months ago, so by last week's shows we were packing 'em in...By the reaction we've been getting, we know that things are going to go well for us in England. When we were first starting in Canada a year ago, there were a lot of people saying stuff won't translate; the lyrics are Canadian, the style is Canadian. I don't know what that means. We found out in the spring that it does translate in the United States. The only place [in the U.S.] we had played until February was Buffalo - and no we've played everywhere in the United States - and we're at a point where we're selling out clubs in the Northeast. More so, we've found that people really do get it in England. In fact, even more so - they're really interested in the type of satire we do, and lyrical stuff. It was a good tour."
"Have stations like CFNY helped you out? Or has it been mostly playing clubs?" I waited for an answer.
"CFNY was very important to us in the beginning, and we've gotten a lot of support from CBC, which is public radio in Canada," Jean replied, abandoning his relaxed pose for a more upright one. "But we're not really a radio band as much...we're just more of a live band. I used to think of it as a bad thing, 'why don't we get played on the radio?' But then I think of acts like Michelle Shocked...She doesn't really get radio play, but she's got a...dedicated following, and that's the kind of tradition we'd like to fall in, I think."
"What about Canadian radio content laws?" (All Canadian radio stations that play music must play at least a certain percentage of Canadian music.) "Do you think that's good?"
Jean nodded. "I think that's a totally great thing. I think it's really really important, and that there should be more regulations of that sort. I know that a lot of people around dis that kind of thing. The issue, I believe, is that...we are living on the border of the most influential cultural superpower in the world...and that's not necessarily a good thing, but it is a fact. For us to not be completely absorbed in that culture, we have to find regulations or ways of supporting the Canadian industries, the music industry being one of them. Otherwise we'd get swallowed up. These kind of cultural guidelines are prevalent in Europe. It's an important way of preserving our culture. So much of Canadian culture is Americanized these days...So I think it's a good thing."
Having seen the band four times before, I thought I knew what their live shows were like. One of their more popular tunes, "Green Eggs and Ham, "was not on the set list the last time I had seen them and I'd heard runours that they'd eliminated it from their performances. "Why don't you perform 'Green Eggs and Ham' anymore?"
"We do do it," was Jean's quick reply. "We don't always do it, I think mostly because we're sick of it, because it was one of the first things we ever did...Besides, that, maybe 'King of Spain,' which came out not too long after that. Nothing that we did in that era do we do anymore. We've changed a lot. Even tonight we'll do a couple of new songs. We're always changing, and so 'Green Eggs and Ham' is very much the Fruvous of four years ago. But we still do it because people ask for it, and we have fun doing it sometimes. Nobody had ever seen it in England, so we were doing it in the UK because it's a side of the groups that is neat for people to see. But quite frankly, we don't really enjoy doing it anymore."
They did perform the song as an encore that night. The band appeared to be enjoying themselves, but I culdn't tell for sure. The song was introduced by band member Mike Ford as "Green eggs and fucking ham!" You decide.
I continued with my interrogation. "How did Moxy Fruvous get started?"
Jean resumed his slacker posture. "We started busking on the streets, and..."
"What exactly is busking?" was Amy's interruption.
Laughter from the couch. "It's just playing on the street. Street performances. Like jugglers. They're buskers."
Jean continued. "We were doing vaudeville almost. This was the summer of '90, and we had it just as a hobby. We've known own each other a long time, and we just kind of got together one day and said let's have fun and do this...We had no agenda for what the group was going to be like, and we still don't. I was at our record company yesterday in Toronto - Warner - and after this US tour we're taking some time off to write for our next album, which we expect to record in the spring. They were saying, so what's it going to sound like? And I really don't know. And that's sort of in the spirit of the way the group started. Nor did we ever start thinking, let's get a big record deal. It was just fun. We were discovered, I suppose, by a couple of producers from the CBC, the public radio, who started to commission to write satirical, issue-related songs, for first local radio and then for national radio shows."
"Is that where 'The Gulf War Song' came from?"
"Yeah...that was one of the first ones - that was January '91. 'My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors' also came from that. It was a song we wrote for the International Authors Festival in November of '91. So we did like 30 different songs of this sort. January '92, we released a little independent six-song cassette that ended up going gold in Canada by August '92. In August of '93, Bargainville had come out in Canada and went platinum, so it was a pretty quick development. In fact, in retrospect we're starting to think that maybe it was too quick in Canada, but that's the way it happened."
At this point, Amy took over. "What about the media?" Jean looked as if he needed more to go on, so she elaborated. "I mean, the Barenaked Ladies got a lot of backlash before their second album came out. Have you gotten anything like this?"
Jean nodded. "I'm not really bitter about it, because we've been slagged off by the press in Canada a little bit now. It's very natural, I think I understand it. I mean...we were complete media darlings for awhile. We couldn't do anything wrong. We got tons of great press. We came out of nowhere, sold tons of records, blah blah blah and we had been in people's faces. People like to typecast us, I think. Peple who don't really listen to the group or who have never seen us live [see us] as being novelty, bubble gum, "King of Spain, " "Green Eggs and Ham" group. And that's very much just one little side of the group. I believe in the talent of the other three guys in the group...and if anybody thinks they've pigeon-holed us as this kind of group or that kind of group...they're wrong, because I can't even tell you what we are. We're always going to be changing.
Just then, Dave Matheson, another quarter of Moxy Fruvous, walked in. He gave us a nod and a grin, and then began tuning a guitar. I flipped through my notes in search of unasked questions. Quick, ask something, I though. "Uhh...what do you think of dental hygiene?" Good one. Brilliant.
Jean laughed. "I go to the dentist regularly now, and..."
"You don't have to answer that," I told him, trying to vocally suppress my amusement.
"No, that's cool," he said. "I go to the dentist regularly now, and there's nothing really that much wrong with me. I'm just going to spend lots of money. But my dentist has convinced me that it's really important to go to the dentist really often for later in life, so I go for cleanings. I went in today for a cleaning. It really hurt!" Jean twisted his face into a grimace, and Dave, Amy and I broke into mild hysterics.
"What are your touring plans for the next six months?"
He started playing with his hair again. "We've been touring for like a year and a half now, straight, on this album. Until November first, and then we're off writing. We're going to do some shows in early '95 to play some of the new stuff in front of an audience, nd then we want to record in March of '95. Then by May or June next year we'll start touring again."
Amy piped in again. "What's the craziest thing that's ever happened at one of your shows?"
Jean smiled and thought for a few seconds. "When we were at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, a guy who was a fan of ours and who was a security guard at the festival said that his girlfriend was in the audience and he wanted to propose to her, and he wanted us to propose for him. And after going, wow, how is this going to work, we said okay. There were about 3,000 people there, and what we eneded up doing was we brought her up on stage, and she was like, what's this all about? We said, this is from whatever his name was, [sings] will you marry me?...The audience freaked out. They stood up and started cheering. He came on stage and he got down on one knee, and he was this big security guy, but he was just...bawling. She looked down at him and she started crying, and then we started crying, and the whole audience was crying! It was such an incredible moment...everybody was crying! It was so beautiful! He was shaking, he lifted up the ring and she took it and then they embraced."
Dave looked up from his guitar and smiled. "Now they're happily married!"
"Yeah," Jean said, "We saw them a couple of months ago in Winnipeg, we went back to play there - this was two years ago - and they're happily married."
Satisfied with that, Amy and I thanked him for putting up with us. Back upstairs, we waited for the merry-making to commence. As usual, Früvous put on a great show. They play in Buffalo frequently, so if you have not seen them, you should have the chance within the next few months. Anyone who has seen them will affirm this: they're fun. That's the bottom line.